An Internal Passport from the First Empire
Military Documents - The Congé de Libération

Cattle and Emigration


We have been industrious, very industrious, putting up litres and litres of sloe gin. Sloes ripen in the summer in France, giving the gin-making a blazing hot afternoon association, rather than the cool, wet autumn days with which the activity is associated in Britain. While we have gathered the fruit from the hedgerows, we have heard the grief-stricken lowing of the neighbour's cows for their calves sent to the butcher as milk-fed veal. That neighbour has nearly gone under a number of times over the years, with every threat of la vache-folle (mad cow disease) to wipe out a herd and shut down the market. His herd was untouched, but he tells tales of others whose livelihoods were destroyed in a day, of the ones who despaired and turned to drink, of the one who killed himself, of the one who went to Tahiti.

During The Great Freeze of 2012 we wrote of hard times in the history of France that may have caused some people to up stakes and leave, emigrating and thus becoming the ancestors you seek. In that post, we listed wars, epidemics, famine and the like. Our recent musings about the neighbour and his tales of ruin brought us to consider epidemics among cattle as another possible reason for emigration. Perhaps some dates coincide with and may indicate a reason for your ancestor's departure from France. 

Rinderpest arrived in France first in Alsace in 1610. It raged throughout most of Europe during the Thirty Years War, wiping out thousands of cattle. Rinderpest epidemics occurred in:

  • 1714, when it killed 90% of all cattle in the Paris region
  • 1769 to 1770, over 60,000 cattle died in the north of France
  • 1771 in Picardie
  • 1773 over much of the northern half of France
  • 1774 infected hides from Holland took the disease to the Southwest of France
  • 1775 over 150,000 cattle died throughout the country
  • 1796, more than 11,000 cattle died in Bas-Rhin, and 130,000 in the rest of France
  • 1814-1815 - at the end of the Napoleonic Wars,  the conquering armies brought diseased cattle with them, causing another epidemic

 Foot and Mouth Disease, called cocotte in France, was often confused with other diseases, but there were epidemics of it in:

  • 1779, in Lorraine (allowing the French farmers to blame the Germans again)
  • 1809 to 1813, at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, in Haut-Rhin, Ardennes, Vosges, Corrèze and the Pyrénées
  • 1834-1835 - Vosges suffered again
  • 1838-1839, in Alsace and Lorraine
  • 1842, in Finistère

Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia is called murie in parts of France and was distressingly common, so much so that people simply accepted it as normal among their animals. The infection rate had to be exceptional to be noted as an epidemic, as it was in :

  • 1744, in Franche-Comté
  • 1822 in Puy-de-Dôme
  • 1840 in Cantal, Aveyron and Lozère
  • 1847 -1849, in Ardèche

Gloss-anthrax, called charbon de langue, a nasty disease that can kill a cow or horse in a couple of days, raged in:

  • 1682, in Lyon
  • 1731-1732, throughout France, but especially in Languedoc
  • 1762 and in 1787, in Normandy
  • 1763, in and around Limoges
  • 1780, in Fontainebleau
  • 1802, in Dordogne and Haute-Garonne

 Do any of these dates immediately precede your ancestor's departure? Are there tales and dark mutterings of typhus contagieux des bêtes à cornes (rinderpest), cocotte, murie, or charbon de langue in your family's background? Now, you may know why.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy